Passive-aggressive behavior is a way of expressing negative feelings indirectly, rather than openly confronting the person or situation that is causing the anger or frustration. Passive-aggressive people may use a variety of tactics to avoid direct conflict, such as sarcasm, sulking, procrastination, or giving the silent treatment. Passive-aggressive people don’t realize they are damaging their most important relationships with their behavior. Since we learn our earliest behaviors from the examples in our childhood homes, many PA folks don’t realize they are repeating what they saw as children.
Here are some examples of the most common type of passive-aggressive behavior in marriages or partnerships.
Passive-aggressive individuals tend to avoid confrontation at all costs. They may agree to something they don’t want to do, only to later make excuses or cancel last minute. This puts a strain on the relationship and can cause resentment if not addressed.
The Silent Treatment
This is a way of punishing someone by refusing to speak to them. Maybe you pick up your phone when she comes into the room. Or you refuse to make eye contact with your partner. You might answer questions with one or two words, or if you are really passive-aggressive, you might grunt or nod your head to indicate you heard them.
Procrastinating on Tasks
Putting off work or other responsibilities, especially when it is inconvenient for others. This is behavior that makes you feel in control; you decide when you will do the task. Passive-aggressive people often wait until the last minute to accomplish something they think is beneath their time or energy.
Compliments that are also insulting, such as “I love your new haircut! It makes you look 10 years younger.” Passive-aggressive people struggle with giving sincere compliments; they need to make sure that you know that you don’t have their full approval.
Sarcasm or Snarky Comments
Making sarcastic or hurtful remarks, often disguised as humor. Much like the backhanded compliment, you are not really sure if they are trying to hurt your feelings. Passive-aggressive people like to feel in control, so they use sarcasm to feel superior over other folks.
Subtle or “Politely” Talking About Topics That Are Uncomfortable
Bringing up sensitive or controversial topics, even though they know it makes the other person feel uncomfortable. Passive-aggressive people like to see how far they can push their rude behavior before someone objects to the discussion. Be prepared to be called “too sensitive” when you tell them you are uncomfortable with the topic.
Playing the Victim
Passive-aggressive people like to act like they are the victim of a situation, even though they are partially or fully responsible for it.
Pretending not to know how to do something in order to avoid doing it is a classic passive-aggressive move. This behavior has been named ” weaponized incompetence” or “strategic incompetence” by author Jared Sandberg.
Passive-aggressive people often come up with excuses to avoid doing something or to explain away their behavior. They struggle to take ownership of their actions and will often try to blame you for the circumstances.
Criticizing or Nitpicking
Passive-aggressive people will often criticize or find fault with the other person. This can include the things you say, the choices you make, and even down to the type of food you choose to eat. PA people often think they know what is best for others and will attempt to move you toward their idea of your “best life.”
Making Sarcastic Jokes
PA people will make jokes that are hurtful or insulting, often disguised as humor. When you object to their rude behavior, they will try to shame you by saying, “It’s only teasing” or “Jeez, can’t you take a joke?” Passive-aggressive people are unaware that behind their teasing is unexplored anger. PA people struggle to connect with their emotions, instead turning to mean-spirited humor and subtle aggression to cope with their emotions.
Withholding Affection or Approval
PA people often refuse to show affection or approval to the other person as a way of punishing them. This can look like indifference, snide comments, or withdrawing physical touch( for example hugs, hand holding, or physical affection). Passive-aggressive people can make you feel like you have to earn any compliment or praise from them.
Passive-aggressive behavior can be very damaging to relationships, both personal and professional. It creates a climate of distrust and hostility, often making it difficult to resolve conflict. If you are dealing with someone who is behaving passively-aggressively, it might help to try to understand why they are behaving that way. It may be that they are struggling to communicate their needs or that they are afraid of conflict. However, it is also important to set boundaries and assert your own needs. If the passive-aggressive behavior is ongoing, it may be helpful to seek professional help.
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This article written and syndicated by Midlife is Magical.
Melane Ann is a writer, blogger, and life coach. In 2020, she turned her experience in midlife divorce and creating a new life for herself into midlifeismagical. With a master's in Marriage and Family Therapy, Melane focuses on helping women over 50 navigate their relationships and commit to healthy aging. She and her new husband share 7 children between them. Melane jokes that she has a black belt in blended families! In addition to her writing, Melane works virtually with her coaching clients from her home office.